Sunday, May 10, 2009

In 1994 we expected these things to disappear ...

I've been trying to remember the things that, back in the early 90s, we thought would disappear.

Many of them lasted longer than we then expected, but their time is coming. Here's the list, and the current status ... (items with an * were added after the original post, thanks to my readers for ideas!)
  1. pay phones: almost gone
  2. fax machines: still here, but I rarely get a fax any more. I do send them on occasion.
  3. newsprint: going away
  4. the telegraph: gone
  5. home phones: going
  6. metered phone calls - esp. long distance: still around, maybe starting to go
  7. graduate school: we still have them, but there are many more distance programs. Post-secondary education seems overdue for an upheaval. It's fantastically expensive.
  8. letters: these are really going away. I never get anything at the office. At home I'm down to checks, weddings and funerals.
  9. encyclopedias (home, printed): I think they're largely gone, but I do miss them.
  10. modems* (see fax): We were sure these would be gone by 1999. They're still used by millions of Americans. I think they'll be gone within five years, but ...
  11. analog broadcast standard resolution TV*: We expected TVs to change much faster than they have. So we expected resolution/display convergence (same hi res for TV and computer) and we had a fuzzier set of ideas about technology convergence. Instead the standard TV has hung on. If not for the forced transition to digital signals I think they might have lasted another ten years. So a remarkable slow transition.
Note that in the early 90s we did not expect paper to go away -- that was the 80s. So it's not surprising that paper is still with us -- at least as a transitional display surface. Likewise we did not expect printed books or textbooks to go away.

On the other hand, we also didn't expect music CDs to look obsolete. That one was a surprise. I don't remember expecting film to vanish -- digital cameras really entered the mainstream around 1997 and experienced astounding improvements over the next 9 years or so.

I'll update this post if I think of other things that we expected to disappear based on our early experience with "Archie", "Veronica", "Gopher" and that foreign thing that ran on NeXT machines.

In retrospect the predictions weren't entirely wrong, but it's taken about 3-10 times as long as expected. I blame the hang time on Canopy economics; it's the long persistence of obsolete technologies that I find interesting.

Anyone remember other things that we expected were facing the end-times back in 1994? I'm not looking for new things we expected to happen (Example: micro-currencies - still not here for real). I'm looking for mainstream technologies of 1994 that geeks thought were obsolete -- especially if we were wrong (so far).


Mike said...

In 1994 I was in my junior year of high school. I would have figured SDTV would have been gone by now. In fairness, we're just counting the days at this point.

I kind of figured Apple would be dead too--couldn't have been more wrong about that.

Is the 3.5" floppy drive dead? I see one is installed on my computer (which I built), but I can't ever recall using it. Does anyone still use a modem?

JGF said...

Modems -- definitely. I added that one.

Diskettes: I don't remember thinking that interchangeable media would vanish. I think we expected that the density would keep increasing. Instead we burn CDs and run into lots of size problems with sending large files around. So this is a surprising disappearance, esp. because in some ways we have missing functionality.

I pay so little attention to TV I'm clueless about when SDTV was first thought to be on the way out. I vaguely recall discussions about LCDs back in the 80s -- some kind of attempt to support TV/computer convergence. So I'll add something like that too.